OK, I finished ‘The Infatuations’ and have a few things to say about it. However, some of the people who read this blog won’t have access to the book until August, when it comes out in the US, so I’m going to talk about a few individual items so as not to spoil anything. Let me start with a little advice to help with intertextuality.
Brush up on Macbeth and The Three Musketeers, and if you haven’t read it, go out at once and get Balzac’s Colonel Chabert. Don’t check it out from a library; you’re going to want to own this one. Hesperus Press has a nice version, or you could go for the French original (I did both). Are these books absolutely needed to appreciate Marías? No, but then one can appreciate impressionism without any prior knowledge of art. The prior knowledge, however, opens up the mind of the viewer and enhances the work under consideration in myriad ways. So, if you need an excuse to go out and get a few more books or to add few titles to that ever-growing book list, here it is.
“But we lawyers! We see forever the same evil feelings, never changed. Our offices are cesspools which cannot be made clean.” - from Balzac’s ‘Colonel Chambert’ (Trans. Mine)
Though not exactly a major theme, I was intrigued by the notion brought up in the novel that the everyday crimes are far more awful to contemplate than are the horrors of war. We can explain away the horrors of war as the work of a few madmen, but crimes like patricide, molestation, rape, theft, abuse, and a long litany of horrors pop up across time and place, indicating that there is something vicious and appalling in humanity itself. A woman killing a legitimate heir for the favor of a love child might worse than the ordering of the firebombing of a city because the infanticide eternally recurs with countless mothers, whereas the bombing was concocted by a small gaggle of generals in a room who are strategizing to win, or at least end, a conflict. And, by pointing this out, Marías is also touching on the basis for some of the most compelling works of literature. Tolstoy uses war in his writing, as does Shakespeare, Dumas, Flaubert and others, but the true horrors – and delights – play themselves out in the individuals acting in ways entirely recognizable (and sometimes repellant) to us.
“...the force of habit is very strong and ends up replacing or even supplanting almost everything. It can supplant love, for example, but not that state of being in love.” (Infatuations 261).
This is an interesting distinction, and covers two things very important in the novel. One is that we eventually move on with things, things we once thought we would be unable to recover from, and that new people come into our lives and by the force of their being near us and wearing away the empty spot once occupied by someone else, by the sheer force of habit, they supplant the former love. The second is that falling in love is a very different thing indeed from actually being in love.
In the end, I was right. It was a ghost story. It was a ghost story about being haunted by the past, being haunted by love, by the fallings in love, by infatuations, by past deeds, and it spoke eloquently of letting go of the past, of making peace with the past, of not being “an accursed fleur-de-lys on his shoulder, which betrays him and points the finger and prevents even the most ancient of crimes from disappearing” (345). Given Spain’s history, and the history of Julian Marías, Javier’s father, this line has added weight.
Read this at all costs. It is one of his best works, for me ranking just behind YFT and A Heart So White. A wonderful book!